Tag Archives: grounding objection

Another primer on Molinism/Middle Knowledge 2 of 2

Here is a follow-up to the exchange I posted on earlier wherein I received and answered a question from someone interested in learning more about the Biblical doctrine of Molinism/Middle Knowledge.

“Now, I may be incorrectly understanding Craig’s explanation of how middle knowledge is supposed to have worked, but I believe he detailed a scenario in which God looked out before creation and saw an infinite host of “parallel universes” (my phrase) encompassing all possible individual choices of his creatures and “picked one.””

There aren’t an infinite number of parallel universes. Middle Knowledge is of possible universes, the vast majority of which are not actualized. For example, one possible universe would be a universe with nothing in it except for empty space. Another possible universe might be one in which I married someone other than the woman I am currently married to. However there is no possible universe where 1+1 does not equal 2.

As for the choices entailed in each logically possible world, you also have to keep in mind that God’s own actions (or possible actions) are also contained within the mind (through divine omniscience) of God. I am confident that once you dwell on that for a little while you’re mind will be as blown as mine was when I first began to plumb the depths of what it means to say that our God is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27).

The possible worlds God possesses foreknowledge of, and what primarily constitutes what we call the middle knowledge of God is the knowledge of counterfactuals. These are facts or truthful statements of “what might-have-been”. They are not a part of God’s free knowledge

“That in some sense (and this is where my understanding may be flawed) human free will is pre-existent to the Creative Decree”

This is actually a variant on what is formally known as “the grounding objection”. The short answer to this apparently problem is that God’s foreknowledge of future free events is not based on the agents themselves but on God’s knowledge of himself (specifically his omniscience or knowledge of all things). His foreknowledge couldn’t be predicated on the agents whose choices are foreknown since the agents that are foreknown did not exist at some point in time (which would mean that God’s knowledge would be limited and finite). Rather, such future free actions of causal agents (which includes angels along with humans at the least) are whats known as “brute facts” which are logically along the lines of facts such as mathematics like the concept of 1+1=2.

So when God laments in Genesis 6:6 he is not lamenting the actualizing of a world wherein free creatures would rebel in stunning (though not surprising) ways. But God’s lament is expressed within space and time (which is another rich topic) over the actualization of sin and rebellion. In short, just like Lazarus’s death was foreknown and even foreordained, Jesus still weeps in John 11:35 not because of a lack of knowledge in the formal sense (that is, being aware of facts) but because of a lack of experience (that is, the actualized event that was previously foreknown).


Answering the grounding objection against Molinism

One of the strongest objections to the doctrine of Molinism is what has commonly been called “the grounding objection” which, stated simply, is; “Where is God’s knowledge in future events grounded?”

Many who ask this question object the idea that, if God’s knowledge is based in his eternal decree then Molinism is undone because it eradicates the notion of libertarian freedom. On the other hand, they think that if the Molinist says that God’s knowledge is grounded in the decisions of his free creatures then God is somehow handcuffed by his creation.

They further find it strange that the leading Molinist apologists such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga  are strangely silent (in their minds at least) about this objection.

I don’t think it is that Craig or Plantinga fail to take seriously the grounding objection so much as they simply find the objection to be incoherent given the presupposition that counterfactuals are true regardless of their instantiation. That is, they are true regardless of whether they obtain or not AND whether the actors in question exist or not. In short, the question of where God’s knowledge of future free decisions is incoherent at the outset because it presupposes that true statements require grounding in the first place. My question when such an objection is raised is when would we suppose that a tensed factual statement such as “I will be in the office tomorrow morning” becomes true?

In sum, the grounding objection begins with a flawed premise that presupposes that knowledge of future-free events must be contingent on the will of either God. The answer, however, is to expand our options to include the possibility that the knowledge of future-free events is what some philosophers call a “brute fact” that God knows in accordance with His omniscience so that the question of where God’s knowledge of future events is grounded is answered by His omniscient nature, not his eternal decree (or man’s finite and contingent decree).

For a better and more in-depth answer to the grounding objection I would point to Thomas P. Flint’s book, Divine Providence, chapter 5 which is also referenced in this article by Craig.